Category Archives: Faculty

Five Questions for Susan Campbell Baldridge

Vice President for Planning & Assessment and Professor of Psychology Susan Campbell Baldridge is in the Five Questions Hot Seat this week.

1. You’re a professor of psychology and Vice President for Planning & Assessment. It’s four weeks into the semester, and summer is quickly becoming a distant memory. We have to ask: What’s your present state of mind?

Well, I had a pretty fabulous summer – I got married and my husband and I honeymooned in Scotland – so just about any semester would be a come down from that. To make matters worse, you’re asking that question a few days before the reaccreditation review team visits our school abroad in Spain, and a few weeks before the full visit of the review team to campus here in Vermont. So I might be tempted to say, “Don’t ask.” But in reality, despite the stress I’m feeling leading up to all that, I’m also feeling pretty pleased that we’ve come this far and accomplished what we set out to do with respect to reaccreditation: We wanted to produce a self study that was inclusive of as many people as possible – including folks from all the College’s programs – and that reflected who are as an institution, celebrating our strengths and acknowledging our challenges. I think we did that. So I guess my state of mind is a mixed bag of pre-visit anxiety, pride in what we’ve accomplished, and wistful nostalgia for the summer.

2. As VP you have led the College’s reaccreditation process. Please tell us about your love affair with data.

It wasn’t love at first sight. I’ve always been competent with numbers, but they never had much appeal until I learned how to use statistics to help answer psychological questions in college and graduate school. Numbers became meaningful and useful in a way I hadn’t seen before. Teaching statistics is a way to help students see that value as well. But the real crux of that passion is less about numbers than it is about pulling order out of what seems like chaos. A statistical test can help do that by taking a spreadsheet full of numbers and telling us something about how the world works or how people think. But I get the same thrill from extracting meaning from any seemingly disparate sources of information, which might just as easily be qualitative as quantitative. I guess I just like to solve a good puzzle. (The New York Times crossword is another outlet for that!)

3. But you’re not just a numbers gal. Word on the street is you love to quilt, too. Why?

Well, there’s some overlap between my fondness for solving puzzles and quilting; cutting fabric into shapes and then recombining them to produce a pattern that’s pretty or fun to look at involves lots of working with numbers. But the real appeal for me is much more visual and tactile. I like vibrant colors and I like to play with the texture and the feel of fabric. I keep fabric organized by color and stacked where I can see it in my sewing room, with spools of brightly colored thread arranged next to it. The room is painted a vibrant pear green. All that color and texture feels like a nice escape when I’ve spent too much time with my nose in a data file.

4. What is the most beautiful place you have ever visited?

That one’s easy. On our aforementioned honeymoon, my husband and I went to visit the grave of Rob Roy MacGregor in Balquhidder, Scotland. (You may have seen the movie about Rob Roy, starring Liam Neeson, or read the novel about him by Sir Walter Scott.) My grandmother traced the genealogy of our family line back to Rob Roy’s brother, so there is a family interest in stories about Rob Roy. I’m particularly invested because my middle name is McGregor (the family dropped the “a” somewhere along the line), and I’ve always enjoyed the fact that, after spending the better part of his adult life fighting more powerful clans and royal foes who had outlawed the use of the name MacGregor, Rob Roy’s grave is defiantly engraved, “MacGregor Despite Them.” The tiny village of Balquhidder is set in the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. It sits at the tip of Loch Voil, a long, calm lake in a steep mountain glen. Sheep and Highland cattle meander the lush valley and up the mountainsides, which are misty and atmospheric in the mornings and (at least sometimes) bright and sunny in the afternoons. That description doesn’t do it justice, but suffice it to say that I was awed by the beauty and peacefulness of the place.

Untitled by sergey vyaltsev


Rob Roy's Grace 1 by amypalko

5. You grew up in Indiana, and received your PhD from UCLA. What are your thoughts on Midwest vs. East Coast vs. West Coast?

If you’re asking where my loyalty lies, it’s in the Hoosier heartland. The people there – including my family, most of whom still live in Indianapolis – are warm and down to earth and have a sense of humility that I think the world could use more of. And ultimately, it’s still home to me. (Hearing Jim Nabors sing “Back Home Again in Indiana” at the start of the Indy 500 each year still gets me misty-eyed. As does rooting for Butler each year in the NCAA basketball tournament.) Living in Los Angeles while I attended graduate school was a great adventure, and I’m glad I had the chance to experience the hum and glamour of life in a big city. But ultimately, the smog, the crime, and the earthquakes were too much for me. So being able to live and work and raise my kids in a beautiful and close-knit community in Vermont seemed like a huge gift. Still does.

Five Questions for Erik Bleich

This week we talk with Erik Bleich, Professor of Political Science. For the record, we do not have any moles…just squirrels.

1. You recently published The Freedom to Be Racist? How the United States and Europe Struggle to Preserve Freedom and Combat Racism (Oxford University Press, 2011). Your book “starts from the premise that liberal democratic citizens love freedom and hate racism, but have a difficult time deciding what to do when those values collide.” In fewer than 224 pages, can you summarize how societies can preserve freedom while combating racism?

One main point of the book is that we have to view both protecting freedom and fighting racism as truly important values—neither trumps the other in all circumstances. Almost all of us reject the “free speech absolutist” position that anyone should be allowed to say anything racist at any time, and nobody wants to live in a country that forbids all racist statements. In fact, there are some instances where we view fighting racism as crucial (we don’t allow aggressive racist speech among members of the Middlebury College community), and others where we have decided that protecting freedom is more important than curbing harmful racism (such as when the Supreme Court permitted neo-Nazis to march in Skokie, Illinois, in a famous 1978 case). It helps to start by recognizing that we are engaged in a delicate balancing act between two vitally important values, and that working out the best way to balance them takes some thought and effort.

2. Where do you think the line between free speech and racist speech lies?

This is the $64,000 question. I think we have to look closely at the harm that racist speech can cause. Unlike some, I am not a fan of banning racist speech because it is offensive. Feeling offended is real, but it is subjective. If you’re going to call the police and ask the courts to punish someone, the harm has to be greater than that. It might involve a measurable trauma for the individual victim, such as a physiological response to harassment or threat. This type of harm is, in fact, punished in all liberal democracies. It might also involve a likelihood that the public statement drives a wedge between groups and stirs up hatred against one particular group. Most countries outside of the United States also have workable laws against these kinds of harms. We do not. Why are Americans so attached to protecting harmful racist speech?

3. Racism can be a difficult and uncomfortable issue to discuss in class. How do you create an environment in which students are willing to talk about it?

This can be a real challenge, but I think it is incredibly helpful to make sure the students get to know each other as quickly as possible. The better you know the person you disagree with (at least in a classroom), the easier it is to see him as “Tom” as opposed to “that racist guy.” In most cases, Tom is not actually a racist, but has had some experiences that have to be understood for everyone else to grasp his perspective—and his perspective is usually really valuable. Students will definitely have disagreements when discussing race and racism, but if they know each other, they can disagree with each others’ ideas without becoming personal or acrimonious.

4. If you could live under any political system (besides democracy), what would you choose?

Ha! Now I know you have a mole, since this is a question I ask my students in Introduction to Comparative Politics! Of course, I also ask them to develop an ad campaign to convince their fellow students to come over to their non-democratic regime. I’m glad you’re not holding me to the same standard. My own preference would be for a benevolent dictatorship run by a wise philosopher-king. Spearsistan?

5. If you had one free hour every day to do whatever you want, what would you do?

Last year, a couple of young people wandering the streets of Middlebury pulled me aside as I was running somewhere in town. They put a microphone in my face and pointed a camera in my direction and said: What do you love more than anything else in the world? I panicked and had one of those life-flashes-before-your-eyes moments where all the good things I’ve ever experienced practically overwhelmed me. Then it hit me. Playing with my kids. And I’m really lucky, because I get to do that for at least an hour every single day.

An Update on the All-Gender Restroom Project

As Tim mentioned in two of his posts last week, the campus’ physical plant went under the proverbial knife this summer, both inside and out. One project that has chugged along steadily this summer is the all-gender restroom project, which Tim and Dean of the College Shirley Collado announced earlier this spring.

The first phase of the project, in which single-stall restrooms with gender designations are converted to all-gender, is nearly complete. Facilities Services Project Manager Mark Gleason has surveyed the single-stall restrooms for accessibility, and Space Manager Mary Stanley is about to place the order for signs. (It should be noted that Mark and Mary have been excellent resources throughout this project, offering advice and getting us the information we need.) In the coming weeks, the following restrooms will be converted through a sign change:

Adirondack House, 2nd Floor

Armstrong Library, 1st Floor

Axinn, Basement, ADA Accessible

Hillcrest, 1st Floor

Old Chapel, 3rd & 4th Floors

Service Building, 1st Floor

Warner, Basement & 3rd Floor

The second phase of the project is moving forward, too. This summer, Jennifer Herrera and I met with the academic department chairs, office heads, and facilities liaisons in Axinn, BiHall, and McCullough to discuss the conversion of one pair of multi-stall restrooms in each building. These meetings were very productive. Attendees asked questions, shared their concerns and their support, and offered many ideas for potential outcomes. Other faculty and staff members who work in these buildings will have the opportunity to do the same during a series of open meetings coming up next week.

Questions? Please feel free to leave a comment, or email Jennifer or me.

All-Gender Restroom Project

In recent months, Sarah Franco, Special Projects Coordinator, and Jennifer Herrera, Special Assistant to the Dean of the College, have been engaged with a group of students to develop a plan for creating all-gender (also known as gender-neutral) restrooms in non-residential buildings on campus. This initiative grew out of a recommendation put forth last spring by an ad hoc study group that published a review of potential student life issues facing transgender students. In their final report, JJ Boggs, Associate Director of Campus Activities, and Mary Hurlie, Associate Director for Career Services, recommended that the College “initiate a collaboration with other appropriate college offices, with a goal to convert as many gender-designated bathrooms into gender-neutral bathrooms as possible.”

In pursuing this recommendation, the College hopes to provide support for the safety and health of Middlebury’s transgender students, faculty, and staff. We also believe that acting on this recommendation will benefit other members of our community. For example, the presence of all-gender restrooms would provide more flexibility for disabled individuals who have opposite-gender caretakers. It would also help parents of young children since they would not have to decide which restroom to use. In sum, all-gender restrooms would create more restroom options for all people to use.

It is important to note that the majority of restrooms on this campus would still have a male or female gender designation. There are many within our community who are unable to use mixed-gender restrooms for a variety of religious and personal reasons. These perspectives are equally valued by the College.

Now that the group has engaged President’s Staff, the Space Committee, Community Council, Faculty Council, and Staff Council in conversations about the proposed changes, the College will begin implementation in two phases. In the first phase, we will change the signs on all non-residential single-stall restrooms to one that includes the male and female symbols as well as the universal symbol of accessibility where applicable.  Single-stall restrooms may then be used by anyone. We expect that this phase of the project will be complete by the beginning of the 2011-2012 academic year. Because not all buildings have single-stall restrooms, the College will work collaboratively with the occupants of such buildings to identify a multi-stall restroom that could be converted to an all-gender facility. This process will likely begin in the fall. We recognize this is a sensitive issue, and so if it is not possible to reach a consensus, then there may be some non-residential buildings that do not have any all-gender restrooms.

If you have any questions or concerns about this project, please do not hesitate to send a note to Alternatively, you may leave questions and feedback in the comments section (anonymously, if you wish).